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High stakes at State ballroom; Glamorous casino plan for former city nightclub.

Byline: BY BARRY TURNBULL Business Features Editor

A GLITZY Monte Carlo-style casino could rejuvenate the fortunes of Liverpool's former State ballroom.

City bar boss Peter Lee wants to attract an up-market clientele to the venue that closed in the mid-90s, after the then nightclub saw a spate of violent incidents including a shooting and fire bombings.

He has ripped out the interior and restored ornate decorations and marbling at the Grade II listed venue originally designed by W Aubrey Smith, architect of the Royal Liver Building.

Magistrates threw out his original application for a licence last year, after opposition from city rivals, but now he is gambling on landing an appeal.

The owner of the Metro bar says his new proposals for a radically different type of gaming house will invalidate previous objections.

The renovated venue will be over-21s only, have a strict dress code and other attractions such as a fine dining restaurant.

Mr Lee said: "This will be a great attraction in the city, a beautiful old building restored and turned into a modern, up-market casino. I'm not knocking the other operators, but we won't be looking at a younger crowd or allowing tracksuits and trainers.

"There's definitely demand out there because we surveyed more than 500 local businesses and got some great feedback, particularly the potential for corporate entertainment."

It is also the intention to create a top-class restaurant on the premises.

The State Ballroom, on Dale Street, fell into disrepair when it was finally closed in the mid-90s after a chequered history of violence, shootings and firebombs.

The building was constructed just over 100 years ago and was originally a restaurant used for tea dances and ballroom dancing, and later became Little woods' social club. It became the UK's first laser disco in 1982. Two years later, its profile was raised by the movie, Letter to Brezhnev, and some years after that it became one of the top venues for acid house music.

Facilities include expansive ground floor and basement areas of 10,000 sq ft each.

An appeal against the failed licence application will be held at Liverpool Crown Court in May.

New application will face fierce opposition

LIVERPOOL'S existing casinos are sure to object to the latest application. Current operators are Gala at Wapping Dock, Stanley with Stanley Street and Circus, in Queen Square, and the Grosvenor, on West Derby Road. When the Government announced plans for more gaming houses and a supercasino, prior to the Gambling Act 2005, there were five applications for Liverpool. The Blair administration later backtracked on a supercasino, but rubberstamped smaller venues in 16 towns. None were awarded for Liverpool. The majority of casinos in the UK were established under the previous legislation. There were over 140 casinos when the Gambling Act came into operation on September 1, 2007. There were over 15m visits to British casinos in 2006/07. The "drop" (money exchanged for gaming chips) amounted to pounds 4.3bn in the same year. Although the online market is growing, it still only represents 3% of casino takings. Last year, calls for help from gamblers rose 25% - with the vast majority customers of traditional gambling outlets.

CAPTION(S):

The former State ballroom is taking shape as a casino Picture: ANDREW TEEBAY/at240209astate-2; State setting: Peter Firth and Alexandra Pigg in Letter to Brezhnev; The exterior of the State Ballroom
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 25, 2009
Words:562
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